Busting PCOS Diet Myths


Find out if sugar, gluten and dairy make the cut.

By Dr. Juhi Agarwal

Before busting food myths, I’d like to first throw some light on the relationship between PCOS and weight. Unfortunately, it is true that women with PCOS have a greater risk of obesity due to the complex hormonal changes in their bodies. The changes in hormones control hunger and appetite, making weight loss tough and, in many cases, increasing the likelihood of weight gain.

Others may experience a vicious cycle of insulin resistance and weight gain. Insulin resistance in PCOS results in high levels of male hormones. The deposition of fat around the abdomen as a result triggers insulin resistance.

Weight loss of roughly 5-10 percent in those who are overweight has proven to reduce insulin resistance, normalise periods, reduce inflammation and improve fertility. A target of about 1/2 – 1kg per week is safe and realistic, although this depends on the person.

Interestingly, PCOS also occurs in women who are within the healthy weight range or even lean, ruling out weight loss as the only factor involved in the management of PCOS. Furthermore, focusing on weight can work adversely, especially for those suffering from eating disorders and/or poor body image issues. A wholesome balanced diet is therefore recommended regardless of weight.

Here’s what you need to know about the PCOS diet…

  • Sugar is not the devil, dairy is not awful, gluten and soy are not strict no-nos for PCOS.Truth is, there is no one specific diet that has proven to be perfect. While some women may feel better when they go gluten or dairy free, several others may see no benefits. Diets that make us dread certain food groups do not always work as they are not sustainable, contributing to weight gain and worsening of PCOS symptoms.
  • Food has the power to keep us healthy as well as to help keep PCOS under control. It is meant to be enjoyed, not feared. Enjoy the spoonful of sugar/honey in your tea or the toast with your omelette or the edamame when eating out at an Asian restaurant.
  • A balanced diet is encouraged for all women with PCOS to help improve symptoms, irrespective of weight. Many believe that a higher protein intake, along with cutting out carbohydrates, will help aid weight loss and therefore manage PCOS. Some believe a ketogenic diet may help regularise insulin levels as it involves a very low carbohydrate content. Let’s take a step back and assess the importance of the different macronutrients and what a balanced diet should ideally contain...
  1. Protein has the same number of calories as carbohydrates. As shocking as it may seem, given the information overload on the benefits of an all-protein diet, excess of it often leads to increased body fat levels. Vegetables and carbohydrates are important for general well-being and should not, in fact, be replaced by excess protein.
  2. Recent research has shown that a ketogenic diet can actually worsen insulin resistance, negatively impacting women with PCOS. Even though there is conflicting research when studying the relationship between the two, a ketogenic diet is hard to sustain in the long run and further research is needed to determine its feasibility.
  3. Carbohydrate cravings are commonly reported in those with PCOS. This is related to insulin resistance, which causes a steep rise and fall in blood sugar levels (though within the normal range). Cutting out carbohydrates completely, whether it’s rice or bread, can have a negative impact on mood, sleep and focus as they are the body’s primary source of fuel.

    In the next few posts, we will look at sustainable diets and healthy eating patterns that can help alleviate symptoms of PCOS.
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